New Encyclopedia Entry

April 3, 2010Contrarian 2 Comments »
Scene from Night of the Living Dead

Scene from Night of the Living Dead

New entry in the Encyclopedia of Political Nonsense.

Social Justice. The Left’s preferred euphemism for material equality and its chief moral rationale for wealth redistribution.

As with many leftist neologisms, “social justice” attempts to appropriate a term with favorable connotations, such as “justice,” and use it to refer to something else, in the hope that unwitting audiences will transfer the favorable connotations of the co-opted term to the new referent. The new referent is always some tenet or goal of leftist ideology.

The new referent in this case is material equality. Leftists, being uniformly beguiled by the Organic Fallacy, assume without question that any differences in wealth, health, happiness, or other aspects of well-being to be found among individuals in a society are “unfair.” Then, following the late Harvard philosopher John Rawls, they equate “justice” with “fairness.” Hence inequalities of the types mentioned become “unjust.”

“Social justice,” then, in the leftist lexicon, is material equality among persons in a social setting.

Justice has, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with equality. Indeed, it presumes inequality. Justice, as commonly understood, consists in securing to each person what he or she is due. Per Merriam-Webster, “impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” In common shorthand, “justice” means, “getting what you deserve.” Justice is thus served when the innocent defendant is acquitted and released, and the guilty defendant convicted and punished, or when the student who turns in the best essay gets an “A” and the student who failed to complete the assignment, or plagiarized from someone else, gets an “F.”

The concept of justice presumes that in any context where the term might apply, that there will be some persons who deserve rewards or praise, and others who do not deserve them. It rejects any presumption of equality by its very meaning.

Leftists will often counter this by conceding that justice has to do with deserts, but then claim that everyone “deserves” certain things “because they are human,” or perhaps because they are “members of society” (this is the assumption underlying the leftist concept of “human rights” — another term expropriated by the Left and re-defined to make it consistent with the leftist worldview).

But that move, of course, perverts the term “deserves.” “Deserves” is a moral concept, and moral concepts apply to actions. One deserves a reward, praise, a blue ribbon, etc., when one acts in some meritorious way. Some action on the agent’s part is presumed and required; one cannot “deserve” something merely by virtue of one’s status, or, indeed, by virtue of any factor over which one has no control. If one may “deserve” something merely by existing, the term ceases to have any use or meaning (and certainly no moral content).

Being human entails that one deserves — that one is entitled to — absolutely nothing [see note at end]. Athletes who compete in the Olympics are not awarded gold medals because they are human; they are awarded for winning their events. Teachers do not award gold stars to all their 3rd graders for being human, but to the student who aced her spelling test. Oscars are not handed out to every producer in Hollywood because they are members of society, but to the one who produced the best picture of the year. Likewise, one deserves a house when one has built a house; he deserves food when he has raised or hunted down some food; he deserves a color teevee when he has made one. Or when he has acquired those things in exchange for some good or service he has given to those who produced them.

That does not mean, of course, that being human counts for nothing. Being human guarantees that one will arrive in the world with substantial assets and advantages — a versatile, built-in means of locomotion; two agile hands which allow one to play Beethoven sonatas on a piano, carve tigers on a grain of rice, perform ophthalmic surgery, or grow food and build houses; and a brain which would be the envy of all other creatures on Earth, were they capable of envy. Humans possess tools for creating material wealth and otherwise securing and enhancing their well-being no other creature can imagine.

Humans, alas, are capable of envy, and of devising strategies for mimimizing their own investments of time and effort. They are also capable of contriving convoluted rationalizations for those strategies. And so many of them, rather than employing the wonderful tools with which Nature has endowed them — none of which they can be said to deserve — turn to parasitism or predation; they prefer to seize the products of others’ hands and brains on the ground that they “deserve” them “because they are human.” Like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead, they lurch along in tenacious pursuit of their vital, productive fellows, arms outstretched in hopes of picking a pocket, muttering “social justice, social justice.”

Like the zombies, the term “social justice” is overdue for burial.

NOTE: One may hear it claimed that everyone at least deserves recognition and respect for one’s status as a moral agent, merely by being one. But this is a mistake. One deserves that recognition and respect by virtue of acting like a moral agent, i.e, by reciprocally respecting others’ similar status (by not violating their rights).

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